Monday, 16 September 2019

LFF 2019 Preview: Monos / The Other Lamb

Alejandro Landes delivers one of the most talked-about films of the year in Monos: a hallucinogenic, intoxicating thriller about child soldiers that has inspired feverish buzz and earned comparisons to Apocalypse Now and Lord of the Flies.

High in the mountains of South America, above the billowing clouds but with gunshots heard in the distance, a motley group of child and teenage soldiers train and wait for instruction while in the presence of their American hostage, the Doctora.

Despite wearing its influences on its sleeve, the film is a wildly original vision from Landes and screenwriter Alexis dos Santos; the camera prowling over mud and organic decay, cutting swathes through the jungle, all to the strains of Mica Levi’s visceral score.

Małgorzata Szumowska’s (Berlin Jury Prize-winner Mug and LFF 2015’s Body) English-language debut The Other Lamb is a beguiling, genre-tinged examination of life in an otherworldly cult.

Selah was born into The Flock, a community of women and girls ruled over by Shepherd, the only male, and a seemingly benevolent but undisputed leader of the strictly regimented and isolated woodland settlement. Selah appears the most perfect of the faithful flock, until unsettling revelations see her devotion shaken.

Szumowska offers an eerie ethereal vision that compellingly recalls a range of references, from David Koresh’s Waco, Texas cult to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian science fiction.

Words: BFI

Images: Cineuropa (top), TrustNordisk

Monday, 9 September 2019

9th Cairo Video Festival (9/9/19–30/9/19)

The 9th edition of the Cairo Video Festival will be launched at Cinema Zawya with a public screening of one of the festival’s programs titled Peripheral Vision at 7pm on Monday, 9th of September 2019.
A total of 101 works from over 30 countries are featured in this edition, which includes individual artists, collectives, the outcome of creative writing workshop Butterflies Are Not Drawn to Light and 4 commissioned works. Video works featured in the 9th edition are produced after January 2017. All videos have Arabic and English subtitles wherever intended.
The 9th edition of the Cairo Video Festival consists of 9 programs, each program contains a selection of videos that will be screened and installed across the city, in addition to the online showcase. Screenings will be screened amongst venues such as public vitrines, bookstores and community spaces in order to promote, expand and harvest attention to the practice of video art and experimental film.
The works in this edition have been nominated and selected by the festival’s team, as well as the Selection and Programmers Committee, including: Ahmed Refaat, Alaa Abdelhamid, Islam Kamal, Mai Elwakil, Mona Gamil, Sarrah Abdelrahman and 96 negative. The 9th edition contains reflections and input from contributors including Islam Shabana, Lara El Gibaly, Marwan Elgamal, Nour El Safoury, Samir El Kordy and Wael Abdel Fattah.
The 9th Cairo Video Festival is organized by Medrar and supported by British Council, DEDI - Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute, the French Institute, Pro Helvetia Cairo, Swiss Arts Council, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Egypt and Elaraby Group.

Words/image: copyright © Cairo Video Festival 2019


Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Programme Launch: London Film Festival 2019

The 63rd BFI London Film Festival (LFF) announced its full programme on Thursday 29th August, 2019, presenting 229 feature films from some of the world’s greatest filmmakers and emerging talent.

For 12 days from 2-13 October 2019 the LFF will celebrate the diverse landscape of international cinema, showcasing films set to entertain and inspire, provoke debate and tackle the urgent issues of our time.

As Britain’s leading cinema event and one of the world’s most important film festivals, the programme offers UK audiences the chance to see some of the most anticipated new films from around the globe, including a host of new works destined to be major awards contenders. This October, the Festival will present 28 World Premieres, 12 International Premieres and 28 European Premieres, welcoming an impressive line up of first-class filmmakers and acting talent.

The programme presents stories from a broad range of voices, continuing to support both home-grown cinema and international productions. 78 countries are represented across short films and features, with 40% of all films directed or co-directed by women. The Festival continues to act as a launch pad for debut filmmakers, often supporting them throughout their career, demonstrated by returning Festival alumni in this year’s programme. The 229 feature films screening include: 41 documentaries, 7 animations, 13 archive restorations and 7 artists’ moving image features. The programme also includes 116 short films.

The Competitive sections serve to recognise remarkable creative achievements from British and international filmmakers. Winners are selected by hand-picked juries across four categories: Official Competition, First Feature, Documentary and Short Film. Last year, audiences were placed at the heart of the awards celebrations for the first time, when the winning film from each section was presented to the public as a surprise screening, following the on-stage announcement of the winner. Building on last year’s sell-out success, audiences will once again have the chance to buy tickets to these awards screenings and be part of the proceedings.

Alongside the Galas, Special Presentations and films in Competition, the Festival will show a range of new world cinema in sections Love, Debate, Laugh, Dare, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Create, Experimenta and Family – which provide pathways for audiences to navigate the extensive programme.

Words: BFI


Tuesday, 20 August 2019

November (Rainer Sarnet, 2017)

Rainer Sarnet's film, produced with support from the Netherlands Film Fund and the Netherlands Film Production Incentive, is an ambitious work which sits somewhere between Hard to Be a God and the work of David Lynch.  A folk tale set in the 19th century, November centres on the stories of poor farm girl Liina (Rea Lest) and fellow peasant Hans (Jörgen Liik).  Although she's promised to a grotesque farmer, Liina has romantic designs on Hans, who in turn only has eyes for the somnambulist daughter (Jette Loona Hermanis) of a German aristocrat (Dieter Laser, familiar from Tom Six's Human Centipede trilogy).  Both Hans and Liina are stretching for a love which seems out of reach, yet with superstition and magic seemingly all around the village (despite - or because of - the presence of the Church), the pair resort to other, darker means in order to capture the hearts of those they desire.

One way in which magic manifests itself is in the form of kratt, creatures who live to work and are usually made up of tools and other pieces of wood and metal; these oddities only come to life when they're furnished with a soul, which their masters obtain via a bargain with the devil (Satan is personified here, and always meets those looking to animate a kratt at, quite appropriately, a deserted crossroads).  Some try to dupe the devil by signing his book in berry juice instead of their blood, but it's a trick he soon becomes wise to.  If all this wasn't enough, the villagers also have to contend with werewolves (which Liina may know a little something about) and the plague which, amusingly, takes the form of a goat.  

All Souls' Day, which occurs during the month of the film's title, features in the story in a rather novel way: rather than the dead simply being remembered, here they actually come back for the day, and return to their families and homes; the eerie nocturnal sequence in which the villagers collect the departed from the graveyard is both highly effective and rather moving.  The treatment of All Souls' Day is a good marker of how the villagers view, and deal with, Christianity (communion wafers are coughed up to be used as bullets for hunting - the logic being that Jesus can fell any animal).  Christ's teachings exist as just one of the belief systems in place, with paganism also playing a prominent role here; it's as if these venal villagers take a pick 'n' mix approach to religion, borrowing bits of different philosophies in order to attain their selfish goals.

While much of the film takes on a very serious tone, there a number of laugh-out-loud moments, the bulk of which come courtesy of the kratt, which stand as the most bizarre entities glimpsed on a screen since the manifestation of the Man from Another Place in Twin Peaks: The Return.  Watching a kratt move (and talk) is as funny as it is disconcerting, and the quiver of a misery whip which tops a pile of newly-disassembled kratt parts is a comic highlight.  The kratt are also capable of eliciting other emotions, too: the film's menacing opening sequence sees one of the creatures stealing a very worried cow, while there's a real melancholy to the scenes between the lovelorn Hans and his snowman kratt (by far the least utilitarian of the creatures featured here, but you'll miss him when he's gone).

It would be wrong to review November and not mention what is undoubtedly the film's strongest suit: the cinematography.  Mart Taniel's lensing really is a joy to behold, and the stark, icy monochrome images are little short of incredible. Taniel contributes so much to the film's rich atmosphere, and his work means that the film is never dull, even if the story can be best described as fitfully engaging.  While the film could use a bit of tightening up in places, it throws around enough in the way of interesting ideas to ensure that viewer concentration never wanders; a lively and fitting score also does much to help move things along.  

Darren Arnold

Images: Eureka Video

Sunday, 11 August 2019

The Hole in the Ground (Lee Cronin, 2019)

Recently released on DVD, The Hole in the Ground is a promising first feature from director Lee Cronin, and for the most part it's an admirable exercise in low-key horror, one which is only slightly let down by a disappointing final reel - but, let's be honest, that's the sort of - ahem - hole that many a film from the genre has fallen into.  It's a well-crafted work which boasts both excellent cinematography and fine acting, and there's enough here to suggest that a steady career in features awaits its director.  Cronin had made several TV ads and short films before making a splash with the 17-minute Ghost Train, which scooped a prestigious award from the Brussels-based European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation (EFFFF).  The Hole in the Ground is a Belgian co-production, and, like Ghost Train, also received funding from Finland - which presumably explains the surprising, welcome casting of Aki Kaurismäki regular Kati Outinen.

Sarah (Seána Kerslake) and her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey) have fled to a house in the countryside, presumably to escape Sarah's abusive ex.  Their new home is certainly remote, and it's surrounded by a forest in which there's a huge, strange sinkhole - the hole in the ground of the title.  While this crater makes for a rather unsettling sight, Sarah doesn't have too much time to dwell on the oddity as she sets about establishing the new family abode.  While driving close to home, Sarah nearly runs over an elderly, clearly disturbed woman (Outinen) who is standing in the middle of the road; later on, Sarah sees the woman, whose name is Noreen, and her husband Des (James Cosmo), and Noreen tells Sarah that Chris is not her son.

Soon after this unpleasant incident, Noreen is found murdered with her head buried in the earth, and Sarah attends the funeral, where Des gives a little more information about his wife's troubled existence: Noreen firmly believed that their son, James, had been taken away and replaced by a doppelgänger, and she could tell the difference when the carbon copy stood in front of a mirror.  Even allowing for the upheaval Chris has experienced over the past few months, Sarah feels her son's behaviour is atypical, and she entertains thoughts similar to those which troubled Noreen for many years.  Predictably enough, a medical examination turns up no major problems with Chris.

The film then proceeds to pull off an impressive balancing act, leaving us guessing: is there actually something wrong with Chris, or is it Sarah who's unravelling?  While there's nothing especially new in this basic concept, the treatment of it is sufficiently skilful to make The Hole in the Ground an enjoyably spooky experience, and Cronin demonstrates a good eye for folk horror as he fully taps into the creepiness of the isolated, bucolic surroundings.  It is only when we reach the film's aforementioned latter stages that the director loses his grip - and his nerve - as measured psychological horror gives way to gloopy FX.  Cronin does manage to right the ship somewhat with a satisfying coda, but it's a pity that one of the more intriguing horror films of recent times loses its way so close to its conclusion.  Still, this is a generally solid film with some interesting flourishes, and it will be interesting to see how Lee Cronin builds on this most assured debut.

Darren Arnold

Image: WildCard Distribution

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Rutger Hauer (1944–2019)

Rutger Hauer (2018)
Image: DWDD [CC BY 3.0]
Dutch actor Rutger Hauer will probably be best remembered - at least by Anglophone audiences - for his performances in 80s classics Blade Runner and The Hitcher.  But long before these Hollywood adventures, the Breukelen-born Hauer had featured in a slew of Dutch-language films, including four for Paul Verhoeven: Katie Tippel, Turkish Delight, Spetters and Soldier of Orange; prior to these features, Verhoeven had directed Hauer in 60s TV series Floris.  The pair would also collaborate in the mid-80s on the English-language historical drama Flesh+Blood, which failed to replicate the duo's earlier successes.  Despite this misstep, the 1980s proved to be Hauer's most successful period, and it was during this decade that he began to star in a series of hugely popular TV ads for Guinness.

From the 1990s on, Hauer's profile was significantly lower as he opted for a number of roles in low-budget films; that said, he still appeared in the occasional lavish production, such as Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins.  His final film (of those released in his lifetime) was Jacques Audiard's outstanding The Sisters Brothers, which we reviewed back in April.  In addition to guest starring in HBO's vampire show True Blood, he also played Van Helsing in legendary horror director Dario Argento's Dracula 3D, a role which sat in direct contrast to his turn as vampire king Lothos in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  He died on July 19 at his home in Friesland, after a short illness.

Darren Arnold

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Henri Storck, Part 3: De patroon is dood (1938)

Maison du Cygne 01
The Brussels café where the BWP was founded. Image: EmDee [CC BY-SA 3.0]
The final film we'll look at in our overview of Henri Storck's "social films" is an appropriately solemn documentary of the funeral of Belgische Werkliedenpartij leader Emile Vandervelde.  De patroon is dood was one of five films made by its director in 1938, and it closes out the Cinematek "social films" set in a manner which underlines Storck's greatness.  It may lack the immediacy of Borinage or De huizen van ellende, but De patroon is dood shows another side of Storck as he records a sober state occasion in an inventive yet unfussy manner.
Camille Huysmans. Image: Eric Koch (ANEFO) [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Emile Vandervelde was a leading figure in both Belgian and international socialism, and earned the nickname "The Boss" long before it was hijacked by a certain singer-songwriter from New Jersey.  He held several ministerial posts, with his final cabinet role being Minister of Public Health in Paul van Zeeland's government.  Critical of King Leopold II's creation (and direct rule) of the Congo Free State and eager to intervene in the Spanish Civil War, Vandervelde was a strong proponent of internationalism, but he would nevertheless come under pressure from younger members of his party as his career (and life) headed towards its conclusion.  His strong socialist ideals very much lined up with those of Henri Storck, so the existence of this film isn't too surprising, and it serves a dual function as both tribute and public record.
Émile Vandervelde 1919
Emile Vandervelde. Image: Harris & Ewing [Public domain]
Storck's deftly edited short film - it's less than half an hour long - captures both the scale and spectacle of the obsèque as huge crowds take to the streets of Brussels.  The funeral was held on the penultimate day of 1938, and it was a cold, grey and wet Friday, but this didn't deter those who wished to pay their final respects to a man who'd served his people right up to the end.  Storck expertly records the mourning, the flags, the flowers and, most poignantly, the torches which are held aloft as the brief December daylight fades.  We also hear from two future Prime Ministers in the form of Léon Blum - who by that stage had already held office twice in France - and Camille Huysmans; their presence here serves to further underline the great importance of Emile Vandervelde to Belgian politics, and De patroon is dood does much to secure the legacies of both its director and his subject.

Darren Arnold